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Comedy Writing Advice From a Hack Magician

comedy barstool stage

So… I recently got an email from someone who’s interested in getting into stand-up comedy.  He asked for advice (from a magician?! LOL), and I replied.  I was just about to delete this from my email’s “sent” folder, but thought I’d publish it out here on the interwebs (after removing the person’s personal info, of course), just in case it might happen to be of use to someone else out there.

It might not be useful.  It might be anti-useful.  All of my advice might be wrong.  I don’t know what I’m doing.

But here it is.

The person’s email:

Hi, I hope this isn’t too weird but I’d like to talk to someone who’s had experience do stand up. I’m 33 and live in (CITY NOT INCLUDED, FOR PRIVACY), it’s been my dream or more like fantasy to try this since I can remember. I’m thinking about trying open mic at (VENUE NOT INCLUDED, FOR PRIVACY). I was just hoping you would maybe give me some pointers on the writing process.

My reply:



I don’t know if I would have any advice for writing stand-up, because I definitely am not the most qualified; My act is essentially “a magic show performed by a hyperactive smartass”… so most of the comedy is situational, derived from whatever I’m trying to do at the moment. Sometimes it’s an aside-comment about what’s happening, sometimes it’s me royally fucking up a trick, sometimes it’s how the onstage audience-volunteer reacts to a ridiculous situation, sometimes it’s substituting one (expected) prop for another (unexpected) prop (i.e. needing a “magic wand” and pulling out a big black 18-inch double-ended dildo.

Yeah. I know. Real intellectual material, right?

One way that I’ve found that works for me, when working on just straight stand-up stuff, though, (in my limited experience actually writing just straight stand-up), is to just write and make a concerted effort to NOT include ANY jokes at ALL. Just write about whatever you want to communicate. Don’t try to make up a funny story – those bits, more often that not, end in “well, I guess you had to be there” and crickets.

Just write whatever you feel the need to communicate. What’s pissing you off? What’s weird in your life or the world? What scares you about X, Y, or Z? Write about real shit, not “oh this was so funny when this happened” crap. Ya know?

Then, type it up. And separate everything you wrote into sentences – a new sentence on every line.

Read through it, and, after EACH sentence… heckle yourself. Write down your self-heckling next to each sentence from the story. If you’re a natural smartass, this’ll be easy. Just do what comes naturally. If someone else were telling you the story, how would you interrupt them to get a laugh at that exact spot?

Some jokes are gonna suck. That’s okay. You won’t really know until you try them out.

So now you’ve got an actual story, with (hopefully) a beginning, middle, and end. Hopefully an interesting story, or an interesting point of view, something that (and this is important) would interest people EVEN IF THERE WERE NO JOKES. But it’s heavily peppered with jokes. A bit of information. Joke. A bit more information. Joke. The person this story is about. Joke. Tangent about that person. Joke. Back to the story. Joke. Here’s what happened. Joke.

Hope that makes sense.

When delivering your story, don’t worry about getting every single word right. The way you write will invariably be different than the way you naturally speak. I don’t know about you, but I use fragmented sentences when speaking in everyday conversation. Most people do. Kinda like this. Ya dig?

Just remember the important parts of your story, which’ll be easy, since it’s YOUR story. And the jokes will be easy, because they’re tied to whatever is happening in the story at the time (as opposed to just a string of disjointed one-liners).

Record your set. Video is best, so you can analyze your body language, etc., but in a pinch, just an audio recorder is better than nothing.

Listen to the recording, and take notes. What jokes got laughs? Which jokes didn’t? Is there a tagline that you could have added on top of an already-existing joke, to milk 2 or 3 laughs out of one set-up (the set-up being, of course, the “factual” sentence part of your story – and the joke being your REACTION to what you just said; your self-HECKLE.). Are there more details that are needed to make the story clearer or more interesting or to make sense? Great. Put ’em in. And write a joke for each additional sentence.

Don’t be afraid to heavily use metaphors, similes, personifications, etc. 

Then, do it again and again. Get as much stage-time as possible. Seek out new open mics in different neighborhoods or towns. Don’t limit yourself to ONLY comedy open-mics. Go to regular open-mics, or maybe a karaoke bar, and ask if, instead of singing a song, you can do 3 minutes of stand-up instead.

Don’t get trapped in the “play to the back of the room” mindset, trying to impress their fellow open-mic circle-jerkers, and they never go anywhere beyond their local open mic. Play to the general lay public who is in attendance, not the regular wannabe-comics.

My co-star in “The Dirty Jokes & Magic Tricks Show,” (http://DirtyJokesAndMagicTricks.com) Jeremy “Jer-Dog” Danley, is sitting next to me, and his advice is to write EVERY. SINGLE. DAY.  He likes to habitually write 10-20 jokes per day.  PER DAY.  Sure, they’re not all winners, but the point is to keep on pluggin’ away.

And know that it’s gonna take some time.

Don’t throw out a joke because it tanked the first time you did it. It might not have been the idea that sucked. Maybe there’s just a clearer way to deliver it. A longer pause. A confused expression. I’d say try out a joke at LEAST 3-5 times before scrapping it. Maybe up to 10 or 12. Because on that 12th time, you might have a flash of inspiration on how to word it or deliver it, that takes it from shitty wanna-be-joke to big-laugh-getter.

So, yeah, I don’t know what I’m doing. Take any advice about writing comedy, from a hack magic act, with a grain of salt.

If you search for comedy writing books online, you’ll probably find quite a few that can help you get a better understanding of the technicalities, structures, and formulas of joke-writing. “Comedy Writing Secrets” by Melvin Helitzer is pretty good… “How To Be a Stand Up Comic” by Richard Belzer is not.

What I mean by “structures and formulas” are things like this:  Always end the line on the FUNNY word; don’t step on the laughs by continuing to deliver information BEYOND the punchline (even Belzer would agree with me on that). Find a way to get any important information into the structure of the joke before the funny part. It’ll take some creative butchering of the English language, but it’s pretty easy.

Imply stuff whenever you can, as opposed to outright SAYING it. Let the audience make the connection in their OWN heads – that’s what’s funny; when they suddenly realize the connection you were implying. Don’t underestimate your audience’s intelligence by spelling stuff out for them.

Fuck. I’m rambling.

And I gotta run.  Should have left for tonight’s gig like 20 minutes ago.

Hope this clusterfuck of random brain-droppings has helped. Stay in touch, and let me know how you’re progressing.



I just signed a contract with SATURDAY NIGHT LIVE!!!

SATURDAY NIGHT LIVE Nathan Allen The Maniac of Magic Comedian Magician Entertainer Entertainment Des Moines IowaAnd it’s a GREAT deal.

All I have to do… is stop calling every day, begging to be on television.

And they, in return… will drop the harassment charges.

Yeah, it was just a joke.  😉  But I totally get a +1 Internets for making you click.

LIVE PUBLIC SHOW – Friday, April 12, 2013 – Wheatland, Iowa

APR 12 2013 DESPERADOS WHEATLAND IOWA Nathan Allen The Maniac of Magic Comedian Magician Entertainer Entertainment Des Moines Iowa - Copy

At a glance:
Friday, April 12, 2013
Desperado’s Bar & Grill
112 South Main Street, Wheatland, IA
Featuring the sick & twisted comedy of Harville!
The insanity starts at 8:00pm
For more info, call Desperado’s at 563-374-3366


WHEATLAND, IOWA – Part magician, part comedian, and totally dysfunctional, Nathan Allen will be bringing his highly-caffeinated blend of magic and comedy to Wheatland! Allen (dubbed “The Maniac of Magic” by his peers) will be making a stop at Desperado’s Bar & Grill (112 S. Main St.) on Friday, April 12th. The adult-only show will start at 8:00pm.

Yes, Nathan Allen is a magician, but don’t be fooled – you will see NO tuxedo and NO sparkly boxes in this show. Instead, Nathan combines his twisted sense of humor, sleight-of-hand magic skills, and hilarious audience participation into one of the very few magic shows on the face of the planet that is both geared for adults AND funny.

The best trick up Nathan’s sleeve is his ability to connect with a crowd, and it’s a trick he can pull off whether he is at a corporate event or a biker bar. With a knack for being a bit naughty and tons of fun, without being offensive, Nathan’s personality-driven performances have been described as “Edgy, funny comedy and magic at its best” (Naturally Funny Entertainment; Chicago, IL), “Funny, fast-moving, unique, and very entertaining!” (Vetesnik Power Sports; Richland Center, WI), and “Action packed, funny, and unpredictable!” (Iowa Emergency Management Association; Des Moines, IA).

The International Brotherhood of Magicians recently presented Nathan with the Iowa Magic Award, based on his technical skills and entertainment value. He is the only magician ever featured in “The Grassroots Comedy Tour” and “The Dirty Jokes & Magic Tricks Show”. His entertainment services won him a full-ride business scholarship to attend college. Of the dozens of magicians in Iowa, Nathan was the only one selected to perform onstage at Iowa Governor Culver‘s Inaugural Gala. He has appeared on international television on TV3, broadcast from the United Kingdom, and has been seen here in the USA on NBC, ABC, and PBS television news programs. And yet, in a typical example of his priorities, he insists that he is most proud of being elected Class Clown.

More than just something out of thin air, Nathan’s slow-but-steady rise in the entertainment industry is the result of a 15-year, love-hate obsession with his work. He started learning magic when he was only 8 years old and did his first paid performance when he was just 12. Now, at the age of 29, Nathan has a long list of performances under his belt, for companies including 3M, Alliant Energy, Charter Communications, Honda, RadioShack, Swiss Valley Farms, and Wal-Mart, to name just a few.

Nathan is based out of Des Moines, Iowa. He drinks way too much coffee, and in his spare time, he enjoys arguing with the television… when it’s turned off.

Friday’s show will feature the sick and twisted comedy of a special guest, stand-up comic HARVILLE!

For more information about who Nathan is and what he does, visit him on the web at ManiacOfMagic.com. For more details about Friday’s show in Wheatland, call Desperado’s at 563-374-3366.

The Amish Comedy Hour

DIRTY JOKES AND MAGIC TRICKS Nathan Allen The Maniac of Magic Comedian Magician Entertainer Entertainment Des Moines IowaOne of the many interesting adventures that has recently happened while working with comedian Jeremy “Jer-Dog” Danley on “The Dirty Jokes & Magic Tricks Show.”  Enjoy.

“The Amish Comedy Hour”
by Jeremy “Jer-Dog” Danley
Originally posted at: http://jerdogondemand.wordpress.com/2013/01/25/the-amish-comedy-hour/

JERDOG Nathan Allen The Maniac of Magic Comedian Magician Entertainer Entertainment Des Moines IowaHere’s something you’ll never hear anyone say: “Hey! Let’s go to South Dakota for the weekend!”

About 2 weeks ago, the inaugural tour of “The Dirty Jokes and Magic Tricks Show” was launched from Ames, Iowa, when I picked up my friend and co-star Nathan Allen “The Maniac of Magic” and headed for Deadwood, South Dakota. Along the way, I discovered what happens when traveling 10 hours with a magician- all your weed will disappear. Which, in retrospect, was unfortunate, because the gig we were headed to would prove to be quite the challenge.

Our first stop was actually at Lowes hardware store to pick up razor blades for one of Nathan’s bits. He chews a half dozen razor blades and then ties them all together with dental floss, inside his mouth! I always knew Nathan was a freak, but didn’t realize how much so, until he started talking about ramming nails up his nose. I had visions of blood spraying everywhere as we rode to SD, and the last thing I needed was the inside of my van looking like a maxi-pad.

Nathan is also always practicing misdirection and sleight of hand, so for the entire tour, I had to keep my hand on my wallet like I was walking thru the south side of Chicago.

We finally arrived at the casino in Deadwood, where the gig was to take place. We were performing for the General Contractors Association of South Dakota, a crowd of almost 400 people. Nathan crushed it for over 40 mins. The crowd was raring to go, and after a quick intermission, it was my turn to take the stage. Little did anyone know, disaster was about to strike…

For the first 10 minutes of my set, I was killing with the usual assortment of my beer and dick jokes. Then, out of nowhere… Just like the scene from Ocean’s 11… All the power in the casino went out. As in completely… I was left performing to a group of nearly 400 contractors with no sound, no microphone, no lights, and nearly 45 minutes left to go in my set.

It was time for The Amish Comedy Hour!

Most comedians would have bailed.

But as you know, I’m a skilled improviser, and I know that the best comedy comes from tragedy. As the front few rows of the audience held up their smartphones with the camera flash on to help illuminate the stage, I proceeded to rail on the casino for not paying their power bill. “I took this gig because I needed the money… And apparently so does the casino.”

Eventually I went into my regularly scheduled material while one of the contractors brought in a giant flashlight to shine on the stage. My co-star in the Dirty Jokes and Magic Tricks show sat in the front row and captured the entire thing on video.

Finally, at the very end of my set, right as I was impersonating my wife receiving a new vibrator as a gift, yelling out “Hallelujah!”, the power was restored. I delivered my remaining jokes, thanked the crowd, and immediately hit the bar for a much needed (and well-deserved) Jager-bomb.

The next stop on The Dirty Jokes and Magic Tricks Tour was a gay bar in Sioux Falls. A small, but enthusiastic crowd. And the magician I was with disappeared into some sort of contraption called “The Glory Hole”… But that’s another story.

This new year, fake your own death. Here’s how.

FAKE YOUR OWN DEATH 01 Nathan Allen The Maniac of Magic Comedian Magician Entertainer Entertainment Des Moines IowaThis might make your friends hate you.  You tell your friends that you have the ability to drastically slow your pulse, simply with the power of your mind.  They don’t believe you, so you offer to demonstrate.

With a friend feeling your strong-and-steady pulse, you appear to fall into a trance-like state.  Your pulse slows dramatically.  Your breathing becomes shallow.  Your pulse slows even more… even… more… and… then…

Your eyes roll to the back of your head, and you slump forward in your chair, lifeless.  Your friends FREAK.  You have NO PULSE.  You appear DEAD.

As their panic crescedos, your pulse starts up again, slowly at first, then faster and faster until it’s back to normal.

You sit up… smile… and try to decide what to name your new religion.

To download the instructions, CLICK HERE.  This download will only be available for a day or two, so if you want it, get it now.

Update: Sorry, the link has expired.  BUT… Take a look around on my website.  You might just be able to find this available for download somewhere else.

I did an interview on a podcast for entertainers

THE INDEPENDENT ENTERTAINER Nathan Allen The Maniac of Magic Comedian Magician Entertainer Entertainment Des Moines IowaI co-hosted “The Independent Entertainer” podcast, with Jeremy ‘Jer-Dog’ Danley (www.JerDogComedy.com), one of the hardest-working and funniest comedians on the road today.

The Independent Entertainer” is a resource offering guerrilla marketing tips and information for comedians, DJ’s, musicians, magicians, and other performers to take control of their show-biz careers, effectively promote themselves, and get more and better gigs.

So… If you’re NOT an entertainer, you probably won’t care much about this info, but if you ARE an entertainer… get your ass in here (also, sign up for the gig-getting e-course at ComedyBookingSecrets.com).  Do it.  Do it now.

Main topics in this episode include…
(a) what your audiences REALLY care about,
(b) how to get killer, descriptive testimonials,
(c) how to immediately pick up quick and easy gigs, and
(d) why head-shots and bios are overrated.

Also, there’s quite a bit of A.D.D., awkward silences, talking shop, stories you won’t hear anywhere else (vomiting backstage, hitting an 80-year-old lady in the tits with a water-balloon during a show, etc.), and other little interesting tidbits of awesomeness from a couple guys who have been playing this game for a few years.

Listen right here (it’s a bit over an hour long):

Or go to the episode’s page to download it: